Tony Norman: In the face of hate, humanity can win out
February 24, 2017 12:00 AM
Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP
Rabbi Hershey Novack of the Chabad center walks through Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City on Tuesday, where almost 200 gravestones were vandalized over the weekend
By Tony Norman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Earlier this month, an estimated 20 rabbis were arrested for blocking a street near Trump Tower. The rabbis were protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order that banned travelers to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim nations.
This week, after 170 headstones at the Jewish Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery near St. Louis, Mo., were knocked over and demolished over the weekend by vandals, two Muslim activists launched a fundraising campaign within their community to help their Jewish brethren with the cost of repairing the historic markers.
The original goal was to raise $20,000 — a goal they surpassed within three hours. The campaign has raised more than $120,000 in the days since. The money not earmarked for the St. Louis area cemetery will be used to fund the repair of vandalized headstones at Jewish cemeteries nationwide — and there are a lot of them.
To call it a sign of the times would be an understatement. The surge in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in this country is apparent to all but the most morally oblivious.
With the targeting of Muslims with constitutionally invalid executive orders and the failure to mention Jewish victims of the Nazis in its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement last month, the Trump White House is doing everything possible to confirm everyone’s darkest suspicions that it doesn’t want to alienate a portion of its base.
After some scolding by Jewish groups for failing to seize easy opportunities to denounce religious hate crimes, Mr. Trump finally came through on Tuesday with a stilted call for greater tolerance.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, twice-failed presidential candidate and the “pride of Penn Hills” as he’s known around here, wasn’t going to let the growing spirit of comity between American Jews and American Muslims get in the way of the casual Islamophobia that fuels so much of his right-wing nuttery.
“If you look at the fact, the people who are responsible for a lot of this anti-Semitism that we’re seeing, I hate to say it, a lot of it is coming from the pro-Palestinian or Muslim communities,” he told CNN.
Mr. Santorum was determined to push back against the narrative that the wave of bomb threats and cemetery desecrations was the work of white nationalists and other bigots who have been a part of the American scene for centuries.
Watching Mr. Santorum spin for the Trump administration’s slowness in denouncing anti-Semitism reminded me of a scene from a memorable episode of “M.A.S.H.” Hawkeye Pierce (the laconic hero, played by Alan Alda) and Frank Burns (high-strung and officious) are tasked with retrieving nine wounded soldiers from their Chinese captors deep in enemy territory.
The only stipulation for the release of the prisoners back to the Americans was that Hawkeye and Frank come alone and unarmed. Frank violates the conditions of what would otherwise be a smooth handoff by bringing a gun. Insulted, the Chinese announce the deal is off, but Hawkeye resorts to some high-minded negotiating.
“Look, you’re doing something really decent in the middle of a giant indecency,” he says referring to the Korean War. “Don’t endanger nine men because one idiot wants to do his General Custer impression.”
“When are you gonna’ learn about Chinese treachery?” a cowering Frank Burns hisses at Hawkeye while clutching his tiny gun during the standoff. “Didn’t Pearl Harbor teach you anything?”
The fact that Rick Santorum has always reminded me of Frank Burns is purely coincidental to this story. The point is that American Jews and American Muslims, two communities that have been antagonists in this country because of Israel and Palestine, are taking steps to “do something really decent in the middle of a giant indecency.”
That’s why so many Americans are inspired by the efforts of Muslim activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi to aid the Jewish community in the St. Louis area and beyond. It is likely that they have a common enemy.
I will say this for the Trump administration. It is doing more to bring Jews and Muslims in America together with its ineptitude and foot-dragging than any other administration in a hundred years.
Tony Norman: email@example.com or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.